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One boat sinks but resident continues on with daring trip


Herald-Tribune staff

A daring 16-month sailing voyage around the world, that began in landlocked northwestern Alberta two weeks ago, has gotten off to a rocky start.

Idlewild expedition leader Ben Gray lost his support boat Friday after it collided with the front of the 14-tonne main boat - the Idlewild - and sank in a dangerous stretch of rapids.

Gray's son Kevin, who was using the smaller boat to scout upriver after the Idlewild hit ground while travelling through the Peace River's Boyer Rapids, managed to escape unharmed, but the small boat will be lost for the rest of the journey.

Alice Gray told the Daily-Herald Tribune the two men were unable to retrieve the capsized support boat after it was swept downstream and sank in a deep pool of water.

"It was a little bit of a setback losing the support boat, but they're going to continue on without it," said Gray, who expects the Idlewild to make it to Fort Chipewyan by today.

"They would have liked to have pulled the boat up, but feared staying any longer would put them behind schedule."

With the help of nearby residents, a crane, and rising water levels, the Idlewild was able to continue on its journey. A crew will be hired to rescue the support boat when water levels begin to fall.

The 66-year-old Grande Prairie resident, along with his son, began a 60,000-kilometre journey that will take them through the Northwest Territories to Greenland, Africa, Australia, the East Indies, Japan and Alaska, May 23, near the Dunvegan Bridge - located 80-km north of Grande Prairie.

Once the Idlewild makes it through the Peace River, it will travel north through the Northwest Territories' Slave and Mackenzie Rivers, until reaching the Arctic Ocean. Gray will then take the Northwest Passage east to Greenland, and sail his 57-foot powerboat south to the Azores.

The boat will then turn east to the African coastline before settling down for a couple of weeks in Cape Town, South Africa.

It will then sail east to the north coast of Australia, north to Japan, then sail northwest to Alaska on its way through the western section of the Northwest Passage and down river to his "home port" in Dunvegan next August.

If successful in completing the trip, the two men will become the first sailors to use the Northwest Passage to circle the globe.

The Idlewild is 17 metres long and 3.3 metres wide, has a 55 horsepower motor, holds 100 gallons of fuel, 400 gallons of water, sleeps four people, has removable wheels that are used for portaging and is specially designed for its unlikely sailing route.

Gray says her husband and son will still have to portage the uninsured half-million dollar boat at least one more time and face additional river rapids before reaching the Arctic Ocean.

Once in the ocean, they could face additional dangers like ice fields, shallow reefs, tropical storms and open ocean pirates.


Despite all the dangers and the loss of the support boat, Gray is confident the Idlewild and its crew will make it back to northern Alberta in one piece.

"While unforeseen things like this happen, I know they are trained for any circumstance and take all the necessary safety precautions," said Gray, who is hoping to meet up with the two in Australia next year.

"Both of them are very careful people and don't take unnecessary risks, so it's much easier on my nerves knowing they should make it home just fine."

The Idlewild's travels can be tracked on the web at www.idlewildexpedition.ca.

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